Final Eight To Clash In The CONCACAF 2022 World Cup Qualifiers
North and Central America and the Caribbean's national football teams have been locked in a battle since March 2021 to qualify for Qatar's FIFA 2022 World Cup. Sixty-two matches later, the final round of deciders is ready to kick off today, September 3rd. Only eight teams are left in contention. With 3.5 slots available at the 2022 competition - the greatest sports event in the world - the competition between the final eight will be fierce.
The 2022 CONCACAF qualifiers are decided over three rounds running from March 2021 to March 2022. Rounds One and Two were completed by June 2021 and saw the thirty-four starting teams whittled down to eight.
Round One of the qualifiers tournament drew teams ranked 6 to 34 (based on FIFA rankings) into six groups (A - F). Each group played a round-robin format of matches (two home and two away) across two international windows - March and June 2021. At the end of the second window, the group winners qualified for Round Two of the tournament.
Round Two, also played in June 202, took the six group winners from the first round into a two-legged home and away contest. The three top teams (Canada, El Salvador and Panama) qualified for the third round of the competition.
Round Three sees teams ranked 1 to 5 (Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras) join the three winners from Round Two for a round-robin of home and away matches as a single group. The top three teams will take the coveted spots at the 2022 tournament, and the fourth-placed team will take their chances at the intercontinental playoffs in June 2022.
The third and final round of matches will be played out over the next six international windows (September, October, November, January, February and March).
The times, dates and locations for the next weeks contests are as follows:
|Opponents||Date / Time (local time Qatar)||Venue and Location|
|OpponentsCanada vs Honduras||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 3rd / 03:05||Venue and LocationBMO Field, Toronto, Canada|
|OpponentsPanama vs Costa Rica||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 3rd / 04:05||Venue and LocationEstadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama|
|OpponentsMexico vs Jamaica||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 3rd / 05:00||Venue and LocationEstadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico|
|OpponentsEl Salvador vs USA||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 3rd / 05:05||Venue and LocationEstadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador|
|OpponentsJamaica vs Panama||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 6th / 01:00||Venue and LocationNational Stadium Independence Park, Jamaica|
|OpponentsCosta Rica vs Mexico||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 6th / 02:00||Venue and LocationEstadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica|
|OpponentsEl Salvador vs Honduras||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 6th / 02:00||Venue and LocationEstadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador|
|OpponentsUSA vs Canada||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 6th / 03:00||Venue and LocationNissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee, USA|
|OpponentsCanada vs El Salvador||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 9th / 02:30||Venue and LocationBMO Field, Toronto, Canada|
|OpponentsCosta Rica vs Jamaica||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 9th / 04:00||Venue and LocationEstadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica|
|OpponentsPanama vs Mexico||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 9th / 04:05||Venue and LocationEstadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama|
|OpponentsHonduras vs USA||Date / Time (local time Qatar)September 9th / 05:05||Venue and LocationOlimpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula, Honduras|
Mexico is CONCACAF's most successful team and ranked 9th in the world in the FIFA ranking - having moved up two places since the beginning of 2021. The Mexicans have reached the World Cup on sixteen occasions, making the quarter-finals twice and the Round of 16 on their last seven outings. Alongside the USA, they are almost guaranteed a spot at the 2022 event. During the September contest, Mexico will go head to head with Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica. Against Costa Rica, El Tri has won their last two most recent battles - a 1-0 friendly and 5-4 on penalties at the 2021 Nations League semi-finals. Against Panama, they have also been the victor of the pairs last few head-to-heads - a 3-1 friendly in 2021 and 3-0 and 3-1 wins at the 2019 Nations League. Mexico and Jamaica haven't played opposite one another since 2016 in a 2-0 win to El Tri at the Copa America. Of the three opponents, Costa Rica could be the hardest to beat.
Though they missed out on the 2018 World Cup after losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, the USA is a rapidly improving team. They recently took home the 2021 Gold Cup (the continent's premier football competition) after beating Mexico in the final. A change in fortunes after Mexico pipped them to the post in the 2019 tournament. The current squad is ranked 10th in the world - a massive jump up from 20th in April and their highest position in over 15 years. To be rated almost as highly as Mexico, the team should give their September rivals cause for concern. El Salvador, Canada and Honduras will all face the USA over the next week. All three have lost their last matches to the Americans.
Costa Rica is currently ranked 44th in the world - having risen six places since early 2021. The Costa Ricans have qualified for the World Cup five times in the last eight editions, reaching the quarter-finals in 2014 over knock-out stage opponents Uruguay, Italy and England. They have form up against the continent's top two teams - the USA and Mexico - and are doubtless in the running for qualifying. During September's contest, they will need to work hard to beat Mexico but should, considering recent victories, stand up to both Jamaica and Panama.
Jamaica has recently seen their FIFA ranking fall by five places to 50th. However, despite Jamaica only joining the World Cup only once in 1998 and their recent fall in rank, the Jamaicans reached the 2021 Gold Cup quarter-final and the semis in the 2019 Gold Cup. The Reggae Boyz shouldn't be discounted too quickly. This September, Mexico and Costa Rica will be tough opponents, and Panama will be no walk in the park, but Jamaica could pull something out of the bag.
Honduras has only reached the World Cup tournament's group stage on three occasions, most recently in 2010 and 2014. However, the 63rd ranked team has recently made the 2021 Gold Cup quarter-finals and third place in the 2021 Nations League. Going into the third round of the qualifiers against El Salvador (64th ranked), the two teams are fairly evenly matched. Nonetheless, against the greatly improved American and Canadian squads, the Hondurans may have a struggle on their hands.
Canada has only played in the group stage of the World Cup once, in 1986, and has only seen two Gold Cup wins, in 1985 and 2000. But, in the last five years, the Canadian team has improved their standing significantly. They reached the quarter-finals of the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup and the semi-finals of the 2021 tournament. The team has risen from 70th in the FIFA rankings to 59th in the last year alone - their highest rank in two decades, and from 117th over a five year period. The squad's rise in status puts them in CONCACAF's top five teams pushing Honduras to sixth place. During the September competition, Canada will be up against one of their toughest opponents, the USA. If the team can hold their nerve against the American's and walk away from their matches with Honduras and El Salvador with a positive result, they will position themselves well for the rest of the qualifiers tournament.
El Salvador's La Selecta have only reached the World Cup twice, in 1970 and 1982. Their only outings took them to the Group Stage but no further. This September, the squad will meet the USA, Honduras and Canada on the pitch. Up against the USA, the team has lost their last two matches. Against Canada, the previous two games between the pair have seen a draw and a loss, and in front of Honduras, they achieved one win and one loss. While predictions will undoubtedly put La Selecta's opposition out in front, the Salvadorians may yet give the teams a run for their money. Sitting at 64th in the rankings (up from 69th), the current squad won't be a pushover during this qualification round - they reached the quarter-finals of the recent Gold Cup competition.
Panama sits 78th in the FIFA rankings - up from 78th. They are the relative underdogs of this round. However, the team did qualify for the last World Cup in 2018, they are frequent attendees at the finals of the Gold Cup competition, and they are in the top division of CONCACAF's Nations League. This month's contests against Costa Rica, Jamaica and Mexico will test the team's wits, but they stand every chance of holding their own against their opponents.
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